A pilot project at the University of Illinois (U of I) could create a worldwide market for swine semen production in the state.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture has provided $69,500 under its AgriFIRST grant program, part of the governor’s Opportunity Returns Initiative.

The pilot effort for an Illinois Certified Frozen Boar Semen Program is targeted at expanding the use of frozen boar semen, which can be shipped greater distances than fresh semen, while still retaining health and fertility characteristics.

“Today, about 99.5% of boar semen is shipped as a liquid fresh product,” explains Rob Knox, U of I Extension swine reproduction specialist and co-leader of the state project with Sherrie Clark, DVM, a U of I faculty member in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

“The liquid product has a very short shelf life which creates shipping and timing problems,” adds Knox. “We thought that a frozen product, while giving up a little in fertility, would open new opportunities to ship domestically and worldwide.”

The key to the project is to establish independent testing to ensure the product’s value. Knox and Clark will run fertility tests on frozen semen, and independent labs will test for health-related issues.

The pilot project also includes collaboration with three Illinois commercial genetic suppliers and genetic exporters.

“Neither the U of I labs nor the independent labs will have any stake in the businesses, so the independence is assured,” says Knox. “In the future, the semen may come from a number of private commercial suppliers in Illinois.”

Information on the project will be posted at www.marketmaker.uiuc.edu.

Knox concludes the one-year project could produce a major increase in exports of valuable semen to international markets and create new sales of certified semen in the domestic youth and show pig areas.